Mark McGwire: Mark of Excellence

To reach the summit, McGwire overcame a failed marriage, a crisis of confidence and a pain-racked body. What bred the will to succeed?

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PETER NEWCOMB / AFP / GETTY

Mark McGwire is a total freak. Not because he hits home runs more than 500 ft., or because he has 20-in. biceps. No, he's a freak because he's able to exhale his emotions, making them dissipate before action. He invites his ex-wife and her husband to his Christmas parties. He spoke to reporters even as some of them peeked into his locker and hunted down his ex-wife and past girlfriends. He didn't go after bad pitches, no matter how many pitchers tried to derail his record chase by avoiding the strike zone. Blinded by thousands of popping flashbulbs from both sports photographers and fans waiting for his record-breaking 62nd homer, he says he didn't notice any of them. Mark McGwire would be a robot, only who would make a robot that goes to therapy and cries during press conferences and Driving Miss Daisy? And who would give a robot red hair?

Sitting at a large conference table, disguised in a button-down shirt and wool pants, his game scowl gone, he doesn't look like that robot. He looks almost unintimidating, like the metarational man he's become. "The one thing I've learned is the mind controls everything," he says. "Your mind can throw the attention off to the side." Tony LaRussa, his manager at both the A's and the Cardinals, says McGwire has a unique ability to "control his emotions, to stifle them." His best friend on the team, catcher Tom Lampkin, says McGwire "has such control on the mental side. He doesn't let things stew inside him. He puts a cap on it." So as McGwire shattered the most famous record in sports with 70 homers in a season, he didn't embrace the conflict; he transcended it.

For an intensely physical guy who grew up in a household with four brothers and no sisters and who never did very well as a student, McGwire, 35, has embraced a Jeffersonian rationality. And at the same time, he's got this softness that also plays against type. If Aristotle and Oprah had spawned, and there was, like, a lot of red dye around, the result would have been Mark McGwire. He's deeply devoted to his son and his charity for sexually abused children. He's been going to a therapist every week since 1991, and plans on continuing long after Woody Allen is cured. Why not, he explains, if it helps him? And why shouldn't his ex-wife hug him after his record-breaking home run? "No divorce is ever peachy keen. But Kathy and I are two grown adults," he says--not only the largest man to say peachy keen but also probably the last one.

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